SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The PCI Special Interest Group will launch an effort in July to created a cabled version of PCI Express that will take on the Thunderbolt interconnect developed by Intel and Apple. Backers suggest the PCIe approach will be more open and more optimal than Thunderbolt for delivering high throughput I/O to tablets and thin notebooks.
The new cable will be based on PCIe 3.0 which supports up to 8 GTransfers/second. It likely will support a maximum of four parallel lanes for throughput up to 32 Gbits/s and distances no longer than three meters.
While initially focused on copper, the technology is expected to migrate to higher speed copper and optical links. The road map likely leads to a 16 GT/s version based on PCIe Gen4 in about four years as well as an optical version for longer reach and/or higher data rates at some point.
The cable and connector itself are expected to be flatter than those of Thunderbolt. The PCIe cable also will support power to peripherals at levels likely less than 20W.
Details of the new standard will be defined by a working group now being formed. The group is expected to deliver a standard system makers can implement in products before June 2013.
The effort to write the spec could take nine to 18 months. The biggest part of the work is expected to be defining technical requirements and a new connector.
The new spec is aimed at consumer uses for desktop and mobile PCs and tablets as well as their peripherals such as external storage devices. The PCI SIG has a separate cable group, chartered in 2005, that has already delivered a spec for the 2.5 and 5 GT/s versions PCIe 1.1 and 2.0, supporting distances up to eight meters and aimed for use in servers and other data center equipment.
Representatives of the PCI SIG declined to comment in any way on Thunderbolt. However, the initiative is clearly aimed at similar applications including external disk and solid-state drives.
"This will help proliferate PCI Express into new business opportunities," said Al Yanes, president of the PCI SIG, declining to give examples of how it will be used.
"Right now we see a need from our members," Yanes said, declining to comment on Thunderbolt directly.
"There are solutions [like this] in the industry--Thunderbolt is one of them, and some companies are doing own thing," he added.